Chicago IG takes on mayor's office over garbage grid

July 8, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Inspector General Joe Ferguson claims the Streets and Sanitation commissioner walked out of a meeting when pressed for answers about the new grid system. The inspector general's job is to audit city departments to root out waste and corruption. This is the latest in a series of confrontations between the IG and city hall. Just last week, Ferguson was told he will have to re-apply for his job if he expects to keep it.

"He walked out. He didn't have answers to questions that were being posed," Ferguson said.

Ferguson accused Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams of stone-walling his department's efforts to find out whether last year's change in how the city collects garbage is netting the results and savings both Williams and Mayor Emanuel have claimed it would.

"They gave a hard number - $18 million. Where that number comes from, what the analysis was, what the data is that supports it - we want that, we haven't seen it," Ferguson said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Streets and Sanitation said any lack of information on their part is a result of the audit being conducted before the transition was complete:

Williams released a statement saying, "We believe the Inspector General's audit of the system midway through implementation was premature, and the appropriate approach to auditing, the large scale transition of Chicago's refuse collection system is to roll the program out completely, review for issues and best practices, adjust strategies accordingly, and then audit."

Although Joe Ferguson's term expires in November, he's being asked to re-apply for his job in accordance to recently approved ethics reforms. Political science professor and former alderman Dick Simpson says this is just another example of the mayor wanting things to go his way.

"The mayor prefers to announce what good things he's done for us, rather than either consult us in advance as to what we want done or to allow anyone else to serve as a check and a balance," Simpson said.

Ferguson himself declined to say whether he'll re-apply.

"This isn't about one IG vs. one mayor. It's the function of the office of the inspector general versus the executive branch of the city of Chicago, which holds in its hands an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of taxpayer money," Ferguson said.

The mayor's office issued a statement Monday evening that said: "The Mayor made it very clear during the campaign and since taking office that all city employees are to cooperate fully with the IG in our shared effort to root out waste and corruption. In the last two years, the IG has performed 13 audits, and this administration has complied with all of them, including the audit of grid garbage. The Mayor's Office became aware of the breakdown in communication between the department and the IG regarding this audit shortly before the media did. Based on the April communication, the Mayor's Office and the department believed the process was ongoing and looked forward to continuing to participate with the IG in the audit. Commissioner Williams has already reached to out the IG's office to continue restart the discussion."

Ferguson's office also recommended DSS review the current supervisory structure (developed at the time of the ward-based system) and implement necessary changes to address the self-identified operational issues and inefficiencies, and ensure efficient oversight of the grid-based garbage collection system.

"The Administration's April press release indicated DSS had done significant work in quantifying total savings, and in making plans to ensure continuous programmatic innovation and monitoring," said Ferguson in a news release. "DSS should share that work with Chicagoans and the IGO. Ignoring official IGO inquiries does not make them go away, and blocking IGO access to City programs sets a remarkably poor example for other City employees."

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